Ukrainian Woman in Japan Creates Artworks from War-damaged Items

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yuliia Bondarenko shows her work in Osaka on April 26.

Kyoto-based Ukrainian artist Yuliia Bondarenko creates artworks from household items destroyed during Russia’s invasion of her country to support Ukrainian children who have lost their parents in the conflict.

Bondarenko draws rainbows, a symbol of hope, and other motifs using traditional Japanese techniques on the theme of “recovery,” in hopes of helping restore her homeland.

The 31-year-old artist plans to hold solo exhibitions in various locations and donate a portion of the proceeds from sales to an organization that supports orphaned kids.

Bondarenko’s hometown, Chernihiv, in northern Ukraine, has been under attack since Moscow’s invasion began in February last year.

Initially, she would hide in the basement of her parents’ house, but eventually decided to leave the country. After fleeing to Germany, where her sister was staying, she arrived in Japan in June, alone.

Hoping to bring peace to her country — where her parents and grandparents still live — she has organized exhibitions of paintings and other contemporary art.

Her decision to support orphans came about after learning that the brother of an acquaintance in Ukraine had been killed in the war, leaving his child behind.

For her works, Bondarenko uses items that have been destroyed by bombing and gunfire, which she receives from local residents. She painted a rainbow onto bullet-holed pots and broken ceramics after repairing the damaged parts and sewed rainbow-patterned fabric onto a torn one-piece dress.

Among the donated items was a little girl’s shoe, which Bondarenko says made her heart ache. “I hope that children who can no longer run around in shoes will have hope, and their hearts will be healed,” she said.

Bondarenko’s artistic approach is based on the traditional Japanese technique of kintsugi, in which broken receptacles are repaired with lacquer then decorated with gold dust.

When she first learned about kintsugi from a pastor in a Ukrainian church six years ago, she was attracted by the idea of finding beauty in broken things.

“Kintsugi is a technique that increases the value of a broken object,” Bondarenko said. “People come to feel happy when their hearts are filled with love.”

Presently, Bondarenko is preparing for a solo exhibition with help from Daisaku Yoshimura, 43, representative of Next Age, an Osaka-based consulting company that has been involved in supporting Ukraine.

Referring to victims’ families, he said, “People who have lost loved ones need to have their hearts restored.”

Meanwhile, Tomiyuki Tanaka, 74, a real estate company executive in Osaka who purchased a piece of glass tableware prior to the exhibition, said, “I want to help support the orphans by displaying the artwork at my office and taking about it [to my colleagues].”

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Children of Heroes, which aids Ukrainian children who have lost parents to war.

Bondarenko said she wants to do her utmost to help restore people’s hearts and Ukraine through hope, kindness and love. She hopes people will feel the power of moving their lives forward.

Bondarenko’s solo exhibitions will be held in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, from May 26-28; Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture from June 24-26; and Nishi Ward, Osaka from Aug. 10-13.